If you go

EXPENSES FOR TWO

Driving miles, Bend to Albany, 250 miles (round trip) @ $2.50/mile $25

Lodging (two nights), Martha Foster Carriage House $150

Dinner, Frankie’s Restaurant $68

Brunch, Brick & Mortar Café $30

Admission, Albany Historic Carousel $4

Dinner, Sybaris Bistro $112

Breakfast, Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant $28

TOTAL $417

INFORMATION

Albany Visitors Association. 110 Third Ave. SE, Albany; albanyvisitors.com, 541-928-0911.

LODGING

Best Western Plus Prairie Inn. 1100 Price Road SE, Albany;albanybestwestern.com, 541-928-5050. Rates from $89

Martha Foster Carriage House. 418 SW Seventh Ave., Albany; airbandb.com, 541-953-9728. Rates from $75

Phoenix Inn Suites. 3410 Spicer Drive SE, Albany; phoenixinn.com/albany, 541-926-5696, 888-889-0208. Rates from $109

DINING

Brick & Mortar Café. 222 W. First Ave., Albany; brickandmortar.cafe, 541-791-7845. Breakfast and lunch Tuesday to Sunday. Budget and moderate.

Calapooia Brewing Company. 140 Hill St. SE, Albany; calapooiabrewing.com, 541-928-1931. Lunch and dinner every day. Budget

Frankie’s Restaurant. 641 Hickory St. NW, Suite 160, Albany; frankies-oregon.com, 541-248-3671. Lunch and dinner every day. Moderate

Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant. 208 SW Second Ave., Albany; novakshungarian.com, 541-967-9488. Breakfast and lunch Wednesday to Monday, dinner Monday and Wednesday to Saturday. Moderate

Sybaris Bistro. 422 W. First Ave., Albany; sybarisbistro.com, 541-791-3340. Dinner Tuesday to Saturday, brunch Saturday. Moderate to expensive

ATTRACTIONS

Albany Historic Carousel & Museum. 503 W. First Ave., Albany; albanycarousel.com, 541-497-2934. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Sunday.

Albany Regional Museum. 136 Lyon St. S., Albany; armuseum.com, 541-967-7122. Open Tuesday to Saturday.

Monteith House Museum. 518 SW Second Ave., Albany; monteithhouse.org, 541-928-0911. Open Wednesday to Saturday afternoons in summer, and by appointment.

Northwest Art & Air Festival. Timber-Linn Park, 900 Price Road SE, Albany; nwartandair.org, 541-917-7777.

Springhill Cellars. 2920 NW Scenic Drive, Albany; springhillcellars.com, 541-928-1009.

ALBANY — It takes a visitor one ride on Albany Historic Carousel’s Harriette the Frog to understand that merry-go-rounds are playgrounds for children of all ages.

A frog wearing a straw hat and flour-sack bloomers and carrying a canning jar of flies is not a creature one expects to find. But this is not just any carousel.

Its 32 animals (with 20 more soon to come) are a colorful and whimsical menagerie of creatures both real and imagined, both domestic and fantastic.

Quigga, the orange-striped quagga, was a real-life animal extinct for more than a century. Igknighter, the dragon, and Sir Hugo Page, the griffin, come from medieval legend. Two unicorns and more than a dozen horses complement a collection that ranges from family dogs and cats to birds, elephants and various sea creatures.

On a typical afternoon in the heart of Albany, a Willamette River town of 53,000, youngsters wearing huge smiles may be seen riding Timber, the English bulldog, and Fredrick, the jackrabbit, while their grandmother gently follows on Taffy, the alpaca.

Fifteen years in the making, this merry-go-round is indeed historic. The family of Gustav Dentzel, a pioneer of carousel building in North America, donated the mechanism that drives the amusement, an antique originally fashioned in 1909.

The community celebrated on July 18 when the carousel opened in its specially constructed pavilion. More than 3,000 townspeople, many of whom sponsored, designed and painted their own animals, climbed aboard a rooster or giraffe on opening day just to say they were there. And by the end of the following week, the carousel had seen more than 15,000 riders.

The Albany Historic Carousel is the newest and, arguably, the brightest attraction in a city that has struggled to place itself on the Oregon tourism map. But by no means is it the only one.

Albany boasts some of the state’s best-preserved late-19th-century residential districts. It has a main street, just steps from the river, whose ongoing restoration is creating space for intriguing shops and some of the Willamette Valley’s best restaurants.

There are excellent museums, nearby wineries and festivals, such as the annual Northwest Art & Air Festival in August, that are the kinds of events people want to attend year after year.

Built on donations

But it’s the carousel that is presently receiving the lion’s (tiger’s? bear’s?) share of attention. Deservedly so. One of a handful of carousels in the Pacific Northwest — the only others in Oregon are in Portland, Salem and Seaside — it’s a prime example of a community project achieved with the continued contributions of the citizenry.

More than 200,000 community volunteer hours have been donated in 14 years, according to operations manager Jennifer Weinmaster. Of the $6.5 million required to build the carousel, about 90 percent of the money came from Albany’s 97321 ZIP code, Weinmaster said.

The project was initiated 15 years ago by local resident Wendy Kirbey after a visit to Missoula. Seeing how a new carousel had been a major piece of an urban revitalization in that Montana city, Kirbey returned home and proposed to the Albany City Council that her town do the same. In very little time, the process had begun.

A key was the Dentzel family’s donation of the mechanism that drives the carousel. One of the three major carousel manufacturers (the others were Looff and Parker) of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Dentzels had been well established before emigrating from Germany to the United States in the 1850s. This carousel once stood on the Jersey shore in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, Weinmaster said.

All of the device’s “bones” — its center pole, sweeps and metal parts — are original, she said; some gears have been recut, and the mechanical workings have been fully restored. When Albany’s dodecagon-shaped (10-sided) building was constructed, it incorporated a trough beneath the carousel where inspections, adjustments and repairs could easily be made.

Memories of yore

The carousel’s Native American motif remains. None of the New Jersey animals remain with the machine; although some still exist. Weinmaster said the Albany group hopes for loans of antique animals. Some are on display in a room adjacent to the carousel itself, along with a scale model of a 19th-century merry-go-round and other carousel memorabilia dating back to 1885.

An elevator descends to the workshop and carving studio, where such animals as bison, peacock and orca are still being hand-crafted. Lead carvers Kurt Christensen and Terryl Whitlatch, with ample volunteer assistance, aren’t done yet with the carousel: Final plans call for 52 creatures, which means there are another 20 to go. As each animal takes more than a year to create — from blueprint sketch to the final touches of paint — there will be works in progress for years to come.

One of the most charming aspects of the Albany Historic Carousel is the way it makes memories for its community sponsors. For every mythical hippocampus (half horse, half fish), there is an animal with emotional ties for a family or individual.

Many dogs, cats and horses were family pets, for instance. But in the case of Harriette the Frog — well, the children and grandchildren of Anna Murphy knew of her passion for collecting porcelain frogs, nearly 200 in all. From the frog’s gardening hat, to the safety pin in the hem of her apron, to the whip of black licorice in her pocket, Harriette is a constant reminder of Anna.

Northwest carousels in Spokane and Kennewick, Washington, and in Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, Idaho, don’t have personal touches like this. Neither do those in Seaside or Portland’s Oaks Amusement Park. Perhaps those in the conception stage, like Coquille and Cottage Grove, will incorporate the more personal touch.

Art & Air Festival

One of Albany’s annual highlights is the Northwest Art & Air Festival, held in Timber-Linn Memorial Park on the northeast side of the city. Our visit on the last full weekend of August coincided with the 18th annual celebration of the event, which included juried art and car shows, live music, a family-fun zone, food vendors and a microbrew garden.

The unquestioned highlight, however, was a visit by 33 hot-air balloons from five western states. Among the balloons was a head-standing Humpty Dumpty, called “Off the Wall,” that made its presence especially well known during Friday’s “Night Glow” event.

As Neil Diamond tribute band Super Diamond exploded into “Thank the Lord for the Night Time,” a dozen of the multi-colored balloons unfurled and ignited their flames. Humpty, who was closest to the stage and a majority of onlookers, got the biggest cheers.

Even as dogs yipped and children cried for their own lost balloons, soaring overhead with a legion of ultra-light aircraft, it was the great balloons that captured public attention. Their fans and generators were so noisy as to overpower lead singer Surreal Neil’s powerful voice. Famous songs like “Sweet Caroline” and “I’m a Believer” waited until after a balloon-enforced intermission.

Historic districts

Miles from the festival grounds, more than 700 historic homes and buildings in four designated historic districts extend for many blocks, from downtown to residential neighborhoods. They give Albany an environment of pioneer heritage that few other Northwest communities can match.

The oldest house in Albany (and one of the earliest wood-frame buildings in Oregon) is the Monteith House. Built in 1849 by founding fathers Walter and Thomas Monteith, it is now a museum located about a block from the carousel on Second Avenue. Within are a recreated provisions store, appearing as it may have when the house served as a de facto social center, and a parlor that features such antiques as a handsome organ and Walter Monteith’s Civil War cutlass.

When the Monteith brothers built their house, it straddled the dividing line between two 320-acre claims, local business leader Oscar Hult told me. They placed bedrooms on opposite sides of the house so as to satisfy a law requiring a land owner to sleep on his property. Together, the Monteiths plotted a 60-acre townsite and named it Albany, after the capital of their home state of New York.

“Back in the 1970s, this city started an urban renewal program that did not please the citizens of Albany,” said Hult, who first arrived in the town in 1982. “So they banded together and decided that the historic flavor of Albany needed to be monitored. The movement had a grass-roots start, but the city has been 150 percent behind it ever since.”

Stretching south from Second to 12th Avenue, the 73-square-block Monteith National Historic District was formally established in 1980 when historians determined it had 381 “properties of significance” dating from 1915 and earlier. Another 78 homes were added to the list when the district was expanded in 2000 to include the period up to the Second World War. The styles are distinctive and well known to architecture lovers: Federal, Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Italianate, Eastlake, Craftsman, Bungalow and many more, as well as hybrids.

Dining and shopping

Hult’s shop is called The Natty Dresser, and it’s one of the shining lights of a new breed of retail store on First Avenue. It’s got something for every sort of man, from tailored suits to designer T-shirts, a milliner’s selection of hats and a vintage shoeshine stand. Fine art galleries and antique stores occupy nearby storefronts.

Around the corner at Second and Lyon streets, the Albany Regional Museum occupies an 1887 dry-goods store. Its exhibits not only describe the city’s past, but also give a good look at an ongoing revitalization that is changing the face of downtown.

One change, anticipated early next year, is the relocation of the Sybaris Bistro, my favorite Willamette Valley restaurant south of Portland. Owners Matt and Janell Bennett will move from a former First Street body-and-fender shop, catty-corner from the carousel, to a historic building on Second Street, where they’ll have an upstairs restaurant atop an alley-side bar.

The Sybaris menu changes monthly, tagged both to fresh, locally available products and to Matt Bennett’s exuberant imagination. The chef often scours historic cookbooks to develop recipes that bring the 19th century into the 21st, much as the new carousel has done for this city.

Elsewhere in downtown Albany, Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant is a longtime family operation that serves chicken paprika, cabbage rolls and other eastern European specialties along with daily breakfasts and weekend brunch. The Brick & Mortar Cafe is a favorite for breakfasts and lunches, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when it has a make-your-own “Bloody Mary Bar.”

Not far across the main Willamette River bridge, Frankie’s Restaurant has a long and diverse menu that runs the gamut from New Orleans-style gumbo to Thai green curry, Mexican carnitas to momma’s spaghetti and meatballs.

Albany is no stranger to brewpubs. Its Calapooia Brewing Company champions the Class V Burger along with original ales like the Riverdog ESB and Paddle Me IPA. And just outside the city, in the foothills of the Coast Range, Springhill Cellars is a family winery that’s been around for nearly three decades. Open weekends and by appointment, it specializes in pinot noir, pinot gris and a pinot noir rosé.

Most of Albany’s lodging are situated within a stone’s throw of Interstate 5, off exits 233 and 234 on the east side of the city. But thanks to Airbnb, I found a wonderful accommodation in downtown’s Monteith Historic District.

The Martha Foster Carriage House is a two-story guest house that stands beside a home built in 1898 by a local mill owner. Owner Lori Melton treats it with loving care and typically charges under $100 a night. It has a full kitchen and a private garden.

And perhaps best of all, it is only a short walk from the carousel.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached at janderson@bendbulletin.com.

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